Diabetes is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition, associated with a range of health complications, from blindness to kidney failure, and nerve damage and often leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and strokes.
With numbers rising at a worryingly fast rate and affecting people of all ages and across all genders, diabetes has a staggering global prevalence. As reported by the WHO, diabetes was the ninth leading cause of death in 2019 with an estimated 1.5 million deaths directly caused by the condition.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for about 95% of cases worldwide. It is primarily caused by insulin resistance – the cell’s inability to react efficiently to insulin.
Despite its huge impact on the global population, there is not enough being done to educate the public on preventing or reversing Diabetes. Symptoms can be managed through medication but the condition can also be delayed, prevented or even reversed, according to recent studies, through better lifestyle choices to combat insulin resistance.
If you want to know more about Chinese Medicine’s natural approach to managing diabetes, easing its symptoms and restoring overall health, come and visit us or request free personalised health advice.
How can we help?
Chinese Medicine has a long history of treating the complex symptoms of diabetes and, in recent years, has made great progress toward the prevention and treatment of the condition. Acupuncture, in particular, is becoming more and more widely recognized as an effective and side-effect-free adjunct treatment to help in all aspects of diabetes care and management.
Extensive research suggests that by working with the endocrine and nervous systems, Chinese Medicine might help delay the progression of diabetes while also reducing dependence on medications by normalising endocrine function, reducing blood glucose levels and reducing insulin resistance.
Acupuncture has also been proven effective in easing peripheral neuropathy, a common, painful complication of type 2 diabetes, occurring most often in hands and feet and causing uncomfortable tingling, pain, and/or numbness. One study of diabetes patients with peripheral neuropathy showed that, after ten weeks of acupuncture treatment, the majority of them reported significant improvement in their symptoms and were able to cut down on pain medications.
While Chinese Medicine alone does not offer a cure for diabetes, it aims to help restore and optimize the body’s ability to function normally while targeting any underlying imbalance and relieving uncomfortable symptoms.
How quickly will you see results?
In most cases, a course of 3 to 4 weeks of acupuncture sessions and herbal formulas can be enough to start seeing improvements in symptoms. However, the length and type of treatments will vary depending on individual needs and responses. Your Chinese Medicine physician will work with you to find the most appropriate approach and treatment plan.
It is imperative that patients seeking to complement treatment for diabetes with Chinese medicine do not stop taking any regular medication from their GPs or consultants, and that they keep monitoring closely blood glucose whilst on a course of treatment.
Please consult with both your Chinese Medicine physician and GP before starting any new course of treatment for optimal, integrated and safe care.
Diabetes Mellitus, commonly referred to as diabetes, is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels. It occurs when the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin – a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels – or is unable to effectively use the insulin it produces.
With diabetes, sugar levels can either be too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia):
- Severe hyperglycemia might make a person feel extremely weak, dizzy and thirsty, have stomach aches or nausea, and blurred vision.
- Very low blood sugars might cause anxiety, sweating, confusion, light-headedness, and tingling in the face. In extreme cases, hypoglycemics can lose consciousness and need emergency medical treatment.
If you feel these symptoms–or see someone in this kind of distress–keep calm, check blood glucose level if possible, eat or drink some fast-absorbing carbohydrates, and wait a few minutes to see how the situation improves.
+ Type 1 Diabetes
This was previously known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset. It is characterized by deficient insulin production and requires daily administration of insulin.
The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes isn’t fully understood, but it is thought to be a type of autoimmune dysfunction that harms pancreatic cells, mistakenly attacking and destroying insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Only 5-10% of people with diabetes have Type 1.
Symptoms include excessive excretion of urine (polyuria), thirst (polydipsia), constant hunger, weight loss, vision changes and fatigue. These symptoms may occur suddenly.
+ Type 2 Diabetes
This was formerly called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset. It results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin.
Type 2 comprises 90-95% of people with diabetes around the world, and is largely the result of genetics combined with poor diet, excess body weight and physical inactivity.
Until recently, this Type 2 was seen only in adults but it is now also occurring in children. This demonstrates a worrying issue with our modern diets.
Symptoms are similar to those of Type 1 diabetes, but are often less marked, often causing the condition to go undetected for several years after onset, and once complications have already arisen.
Type 2 Diabetes usually develops over the course of several years, and during that time, people may have what we now call ‘prediabetes.’ If you are prediabetic, it means your blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
The key to preventing, managing and reversing Type 2 Diabetes is lifestyle management with the aid of medical treatments as necessary.
+ Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and is caused by Insulin-blocking hormones produced by the placenta. It is most often diagnosed through prenatal screening, rather than reported symptoms and it typically resolves after childbirth.
Over time, this condition can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
- It can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. 50 percent of people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease (primarily heart disease and stroke).
- Combined with reduced blood flow, neuropathy in the feet increases the chance of foot ulcers and eventual limb amputation.
- Diabetic retinopathy is an important cause of blindness, and occurs as a result of long-term accumulated damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. After 15 years of diabetes, approximately 2 percent of people become blind, and about 10 percent develop severe visual impairment.
- It is among the leading causes of kidney failure. 10-20 percent of people with diabetes die of kidney failure.
- Diabetic neuropathy is damage to the nerves as a result of diabetes, and affects up to 50 percent of people with diabetes. Although many different problems can occur as a result of diabetic neuropathy, common symptoms are tingling, pain, numbness, or weakness in the feet and hands.
- The overall risk of dying among people with diabetes is at least double the risk of their peers without diabetes.
Western Medical View
Western medicine tends to see diabetes as a chronic, non-curable disease that often requires lifelong insulin injections and other medicines to keep it under control.
While different causes are associated with each type of diabetes, generally, a family history of diabetes, genetics, environmental factors and pre-existing medical conditions are thought to play a key role in triggering the disease and affecting the odds of developing diabetes.
Early diagnosis is possible and can be accomplished through relatively inexpensive blood testing.
Western or conventional therapies for diabetes are mainly geared toward regulating blood glucose with a combination of diet modification, insulin and/or oral pharmacological agents, weight loss when appropriate, and exercise.
Patients with either type 1 or 2 may be prescribed oral insulin, injectable insulin, or an automatic insulin pump. Oral medications, such as metformin, sulfonylureas, and thiazolidinediones, are commonly prescribed to individuals with Type 2 diabetes to either increase insulin production, improve insulin sensitivity, or reduce glucose production in the liver.
In addition to oral medications and insulin, other medications may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms or complications associated with diabetes. For example, medications to control high blood pressure or cholesterol levels may be prescribed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A primary care physician may be able to help with managing diabetes, but often people will also need to seek the advice of an endocrinologist and a nutritionist to help them learn how to manage their medications and carbohydrate intake appropriately.
Chinese Medical View
According to the World Health Organisation, acupuncture has a therapeutic effect on diabetes mellitus (non-insulin-dependent)*
In Chinese medicine, diabetes falls under the category of ‘Xiaoke disease’ or ‘wasting and thirsting disease’: a disease marked by symptoms of frequent drinking and urination. In the traditional sense, its pathogenesis is ‘Yin deficiency and dryness-heat’, a result of excess heat and dampness accumulating in the body.
According to Chinese Medicine, Xiaoke is attributed to three main factors:
- Improper diet: consuming large quantities of sweets, greasy foods and alcohol
- Emotional disturbances: stress, anxiety, depression
- Yin deficiency: fatigue, weakness, lethargy, pale complexion.
Diabetes is generally divided into three main types – Upper, Middle, and Lower Xiaoke – each marked by specific symptoms and closely associated with specific organ systems.
- Upper Xiaoke: is characterized by excessive thirst, and associated with ZF Lungs
- Middle Xiaoke: is characterized by excessive hunger, and associated with ZF Stomach
- Lower Xiaoke: is characterized by excessive urination and associated with ZF Kidneys
Chinese Medicine treatments for diabetes aim not only to alleviate symptoms but also to address the underlying imbalances and disharmonies within the body, supporting overall health and well-being.
In China, diabetes is typically treated with a combination of Chinese and Western medicine including the use of insulin, if needed, and often involving the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine and advice on nutrition.
Acupuncture treatment is often employed to stimulate the function of the pancreas, ease neuropathy, and treat other symptoms related to nerve problems. Herbal formulae, tailored to the patient’s needs are also instrumental in improving glucose levels, providing nutrients, and soothing and strengthening the body and mind.
Lifestyle changes will bring about the biggest benefits for those wishing to prevent, reduce or reverse Type 2 Diabetes.
The primary goal is to dramatically reduce sugar and simple carbohydrate intake while still eating a healthy diet. This can have incredible effects on reducing insulin resistance.
- Consider the ketogenic diet to metabolically switch towards using fats primarily for energy. Be sure to follow a properly managed keto diet with high quality fats and the right ratios of proteins and carbohydrates
- Cut out all processed foods which contain hidden sugars, sugar-substitutes and other chemicals
- Cut out as much sugar as possible and rely on a small amount of whole fruits (not juice) for any sugar intake
- Reduce carbohydrates especially simple carbohydrates with low fibre
- Consider the benefits of fasting
- Do not eat late in the evening – try to eat while the sun is still up as much as possible
- Achieve and maintain healthy body weight
- Be physically active – at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days
- Reduce stress by auditing your work/play/relaxation balance and incorporating relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, exposure to nature and sleep habits
- Avoid tobacco use
- Avoid alcohol use
For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle, please ask the doctor during your consultation.
Please be reminded that we offer free online health advice.
+ *CLINICAL TRIALS
Kang SY et al. [Clinical investigation of the treatment of diabetes mellitus with timing acupuncture.] Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1995, 15(1):6-8 [in Chinese].
Latief R. The effect of san yin ciao point on hyperglycemia of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Cermin Dumia Kedokteran, 1987, (44):20-23 [in Indonesian].
Guo, J., Chen, H., Song, J., Wang, J., Zhao, L., & Tong, X. (2014). Syndrome Differentiation of Diabetes by the Traditional Chinese Medicine according to Evidence-Based Medicine and Expert Consensus Opinion. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2014, 492193.
Abuaisha BB, Costanzi JB, Boulton AJ. Acupuncture for the treatment of chronic painful peripheral diabetic neuropathy: a long-term study. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 1998 Feb;39(2):115-21. doi: 10.1016/s0168-8227(97)00123-x. PMID: 9597381.
Babu, S. R., & Eisenbarth, G. S. (2012). Juvenile diabetes. The Indian journal of medical research, 136(2), 179–181.
Liu, M., Chen, J., Ren, Q., Zhu, W., Yan, D., Nie, H., Chen, X., & Zhou, X. (2019). Acupuncture and related techniques for type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review protocol. Medicine, 98(2), e14059.
Mai, W., Wei, A., Lin, X., Wang, F., Ye, J., & Chen, P. (2021). Efficacy and safety of traditional Chinese medicine injection with mecobalamin in treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 100(1), e23702.
Yu, A., Adelson, D., & Mills, D. (2018). A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials: Chinese Herbal Medicine and Diabetes. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 23, 2515690X18781519.
Bao, P., Mi, J., Yu, Z., Liu, L., Zhu, Z., Liu, S., & Nan, Z. (2021). A protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis: Acupuncture combined with Chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Medicine, 100(43), e27658
Tian, J, Jin, D, Bao, Q, et al. Evidence and potential mechanisms of traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2019; 21: 1801– 1816.
Jie Sun, Jiangong Ren, Xuejian Hu, Yuanhua Hou, Yan Yang. Therapeutic effects of Chinese herbal medicines and their extracts on diabetes. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Volume 142, 2021,